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Photo by Michael Jordan, enjoying a meal at sunset, Zangskar Valley, India

I haven't been everywhere...
but it's on my list!


Photo by Michael Jordan
enjoying a meal at sunset,
Zangskar Valley, India



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  #1  
Old 1 Dec 2013
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Join Date: Aug 2012
Location: Zambia
Posts: 60
Round the World for Zambia Orphans

Saturday, 30 November 2013
LEG 1: LIVINGSTONE, ZAMBIA - BAGAMOYO, TANZANIA,
November 2013
5:00 AM, Thursday Morning; it is already 28 degrees as we load our last packs on the bike. As I strap them tight to the side cases, I wonder how the bike is going to perform. We are way overloaded: the manual strongly insists to not load the bike more than 469 kg, including the weight of the bike, the accessories, the passengers and the fuel. We are somewhere at 490 all together. Hmmm... I wonder!

We say goodbye to Maramba River Lodge, it was our home for 4 months now and we head out slowly, wobbling around, trying to find our balance as we exit the gates of the lodge. It is 5 in the morning and I am sweating already; I hate it. We stop to fuel up in town and head out of Livingstone... the odometer shows 30300 km as we leave the town.

Soon we are settled on the road, making our way North East towards Lusaka, through Zimba, Kalomo, Choma, Monze, Mazabuka, Kafue and heading towards Fringilla Farm. The road is perfect to start with, good warm up for the bike and us, no issues whatsoever. As we ride on, I noticed that the fuel consumption is getting better instead of worse. With an overloaded bike we use 4.8 l per 100 km. I rode the bike empty many times and the best I had was 5.0 l per 100 km. I think the Japanese have got it all wrong and I love them all the more for their strange technology!

As we approach Lusaka, from Kafue on we see the diversions and the roadworks. Lots of vibration as we hit the gravel. The Chinese company that is building the road decided to dump molasses on the gravel to keep the dust to a minimum. The bike and our boots are black of molasses and sand and we smell like rotten sugar... However, the bike does not even blink, it plows through without any complaints.

We reach Lusaka, get some money from ATM at Barclays and head out from the craziness of the city to the peaceful and beautiful Fringilla Farm, 50 km outside of the capital. I love Fringilla; it is owned by a very old South African man that is very loved by the locals. The food is beautiful, mostly grown on their farm, the meat comes from their own butchery and the natural setting is splendid.

As we set up the tent I noticed next to us an interesting looking tree with some kind of apples. I ask the guard what is it and he says: "African green apple". I knock a few down and we both taste them; they are extremely sweet and filling and of an excellent flavor.

Early in the morning we have breakfast (coffee, tea, cereal) then we pack and head out. We learned in all our camping past to know how to pack everything quickly and efficiently. In 15 min the tents and the rest of the belongings are on the bike. We have a storage tent and a sleeping tent; this way the camp looks clean.

We are heading to Mpika today, few hours from Tanzania border. There are no issues again with the bike, just with the roads up there. They have built a brand new road to Mpika, but so badly engineered that it is worse than the old one. It has so many uneven surfaces that the bike rattles worse than ever before. I am certain it will break apart any moment now. Our bones are shaken heavily and soon I get pissed and Carmen tells me to relax, not much we can do about it. As we approach Mpika, as if there wasn't enough stress, we find that the road people in front are dumping small rock pebbles on the road. We start getting hit by the passing trucks that drive like maniacs and the rocks are hitting us like bullets. I get one in the left arm and start yelling in my helmet. The bike is getting hit on all sides. I slow down... Few kilometers from Mpika we find the road truck dumping the rocks right in front of our bike. I start yelling again, this time for them to stop while I pass. They don't understand what is wrong with me...

We stay at Melodies Lodge, eat some crap from the next door restaurant (chicken and chips is the safest thing to eat once you enter Central and East Africa) and go to bed. Early morning we head out after a brief coffee cup and a biscuit. We think we will make the border by 10 am; we are wrong...

Soon after passing Mpika we hit terrible potholes and the road narrows to one lane with broken sides and deep ruts. On top of this we meet the crazy petrol tankers coming from Tanzania to deliver fuel to Zambia. I think we have passed over 100 fuel trucks in a space of 2 hours. They come towards you with speeds over 120 km/hour trashing everything in their paths. They do not care if there are potholes, or people or donkeys and especially motorbikes like ours. We are forced many times to run almost in the bush as they are passing each other at great speeds and leave no space for incoming traffic. You will see in the pictures below some of the accidents we saw (and we saw many). It was the single most stressful day of all my African riding so far ( and at that time I had already 50.000 km of riding in Africa alone).

As we approach the border the road becomes shattered with deep potholes and soft sand. We are anxious to get out so we hope to see the border any minute.

We arrive at the Tunduma, Tanzania border at 1:00 pm, 7 hours from Mpika, and we did only 290 km. Exhausted, heated up and sticky, we head to the mayhem at the border, harassed by "agents" that tell you what you have to do as far as paperwork is concerned. Thousands of people roam to and fro selling everything from sim cards to couches and shoes. Everyone wants our business as we are pretty much the only Muzungus (white people) there that day. We are instantly surrounded by hundreds of people. 2 hours later, with all the paperwork done, we leave for Mbeya. The roads are great, the villages large and landscapes, fantastic. We breathe a little bit.

We stay at Tughimbe Imperial Hotel (sounds pompous but it only cost 15 dollars for both of us including breakfast)
We rest that night and in the morning we head towards Morogoro, 650 km away.
We ride through good roads but now another great obstacle awaits us in Tanzania: the famous, or I should say infamous, speed humps. Tanzania has 4 different kinds of humps: 3 small, closed to each other, bumps, followed by 6, also small but sharp edged, bumps, then a very large one, like a hill but sharp (I hit my bike underneath countless times) and finally a series of high and sharp ones. Once you cross the whole country, you want to kill yourself. It is the single most disgusting thing I have seen in Tanzania. But it is the only way to slow down the maniacs that are driving in that country. The buses are called the Buses of Death, they are involved in the most accidents, traveling at speeds up to 160 km per hour with overloaded capacity. When they overturn or hit something, the death toll is great.
After 11 hours of hell, we arrive in Morogoro. As you approach Morogoro you have to go through the Valley of Death, a steep, narrow gorge, with absolutely no visibility and full of trucks and buses that are passing each other regardless of who might be coming in front. Then you go through the beautiful Baobab forest and through Mikumi National Park and then you hit Morogoro. We arrived again dirty, sticky from the humidity and exhausted. All we do is jump into the shower and go to bed. Tomorrow, our final leg to Bagamoyo.

Early morning we have a quick breakfast and head out. Dar Es Salaam is in front and I have been there before, I know what is awaiting us. I don't tell Carmen, otherwise I worry her for nothing. We will deal with it when we see it.
From Morogoro the landscape changes dramatically, from mountains to large coconut plantations, aloe vera farms and rolling hills. Few kilometers from Dar Es Salaam, the mayhem starts... They are doing roadworks, so if it was bad before, now it is beyond imagination: thousands of buses, trucks, cars, stuck for hours, intermingled with carts with bananas pulled by people, and many motorbikes. I squeeze our bike in between trucks and buses, millimeters away from their wheels. Carmen is stressed and pinches me from the back once in a while. I keep quiet and focused. After many close calls, we find the road north to Bagamoyo and head out of Dar. Half an hour later, we pitch our tent at Travelers Lodge.

No accidents to report yet, no issues with the bike, we dodged several close calls, but our first leg of 2500 km went slowly but OK.
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  #2  
Old 7 Dec 2013
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Join Date: Aug 2012
Location: Zambia
Posts: 60
Saturday, December 7th, 2013

LEG 2: DAR ES SALAAM, TANZANIA - NAIROBI, KENYA, 1000 KM, DECEMBER 2013
After a short rest (although we were planning a longer sejour, but due to the humidity and mosquitoes and over population and many other reasons, we decided to move on) we are heading to Nairobi. The road winds now beautifully towards Northern Tanzania, upwards towards the majestic Kilimanjaro and Meru.

It took us 3 hours to get out of Dar Es Salaam at 6 in the morning. As we pack the bike around 5:00 in South Beach, we are sweating already as the humidity is very high. I hate every second of it... dressed with bike boots, pants and jackets is not a pleasant thing in any conditions, but much more so in 100% humidity. Finally we load the bike and we head out... Few hundred meters later, Carmen tells me that we are missing a bag; I stop, look and discover that the bag with our DJI Phantom quadcopter and 360 camera is not there anymore. "But I packed it myself" I shout at Carmen. She looks at me confused... I look around and see that the netting that I tied the bag is loose, hanging between the muffler and the side case. I go back and find the bag, full of dust, somewhere in the bush. I pick it up, while the river Nile is flowing under my jacket, leaving traces of salt on my skin. I throw the bag under the net and open the throttle so I can get out of this place.
We jump on the dirty ferry from Kigomboni to Dar, it is full of vendors and bikes and people and everyone is gathering around our bike to examine closer. The stench is spectacular: between the sweat of the poor people, the fumes of the trucks and buses that never stop their engines, the rotten fish from the fish market nearby and the fact that I didn't brush my teeth make me want to throw myself into the Indian Ocean. It was the longest 9 minutes of my life.

Once on the other side, we jump on the bike and slowly make our way out of Dar; by 9:00 am!!! , three hours later.

As soon as you leave the coast, the road becomes windy and the air fresh and crisp. As we approach the mountains, humidity disappears and although still in the high 30's, it is a very pleasant ride. Northern Tanzania is extremely beautiful, with great aloe vera plantations, pineapple fields and lots of Jack fruit trees. The villages are cleaner and spread all over the hills and slowly we start seeing the great plains of the Masaai tribe with their great herds of cattle and amazingly colorful dresses.

Suddenly the road becomes bad with lots of deviations through soft sand and deep mud in places. It is getting cooler, as we see the clouds hanging on top of Kilimanjaro about 70 km away. We fall in mud, twice, I pick the bike and walk it out with the help of my engine and an old man that came to our help. Carmen is filming me deep in the mud while shouting at the old man to push. The poor guy is so small but he nevertheless pulls up his pants and helps me get out. I give him 1 dollar and he is ecstatic.
After 5 hours of negotiating the deviations, I am getting very tired. By the time we reach Arusha, it is 11 hours since we left Dar and we only made 650 km. As I pull into the hotel in Arusha, I shake so badly due to fatigue that I drop the bike on top of me in the middle of the road. People rush to help me but I just get out from under it and start kicking it like a mad man. Carmen, luckily, was already away from it, as she got out earlier to take some photos and she just witnesses this outrage.

We rest that night, sticky from the humidity in Dar and dusty from all the roadworks. Looking back to this now, we smile and keep all this as a fond memory of East Africa, but it wasn't so pretty at the time.
I spend some time alone in the balcony, while Carmen is taking a shower... How many unknown days ahead of us now? I am thinking of the road north of Nairobi, the road to hell as they call it. It is rainy season in Kenya and I am already reading blogs of other bikers that had major problems there. I love life on a bike... I think as I look at the beautiful Mt. Meru hovering above my head. I love the hustle and bustle of it all and I love the surprises that the trip throws at us every day.

Early morning, as I pack the bike, a few of the hotel guests are gathering around me, curious about the bike and us. Most of them are rich Somalis, dressed in fancy clothes and wearing great jewelry. They all took photos with us and displayed them very proudly on their phones.

We head out of town towards the north for the Kenyan border; 4 years ago I crossed the same road from Nairobi in two 4X4 cars and the road was terrible. It was under construction and we were forced to drive on the rocky side- road. Now, it is brand new: beautiful tarmac, winding through the majestic mountains and Masaai plains. It is 17 degrees now and I love the cold feeling of riding the bike. The bike loves it too.

We arrive quickly at the Kenyan border and while we got the visa fast, the customs is killing me over my bike. They are asking me for a Carnet de Passage and I keep telling them that being registered in Africa, my bike does not need a Carnet. For almost 2 hours we hassled in the Customs office and eventually they give me 7 days to get on the other side of the country at Moyale, Ethiopia.

The ride to Nairobi is eventless and we ride into Jungle Junction Camp around 4 pm. We set up camp and I go inside to meet the other overlanders: it is quiet here, compared to other times where you can meet here up to 60-70 people that from all over the place. Now, there are two South Africans that are coming from Europe with their Land Rover, an elderly couple with a large truck (he is Swiss and she is South African), 3 Japanese young people walking around the world and we find out that we just miss our friends from Finland, Heikki and Ulla that just left for Moyale on their BMW 1200 GS.

We speak a little bit with everyone, just to introduce ourselves and hit the mattresses. New country, new challenges.

1000 km, no accidents (other than dropping the bike and falling a couple of times), no issues with the bike, nothing seems to rattle or be loose on the bike, so I am content.
Our bike again:
Yamaha Super Tenere 1200
Odometer at present: 34200 km
Our purpose: Raising awareness and funding for Nomad Sports Academy for Orphans, Zambia, our own, privately funded project for the orphans.
Our website: www.nomadsportsacademy.com
Kilometers done so far: 3500
Kilometers to go: 70.000
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  #3  
Old 26 Dec 2013
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Join Date: Aug 2012
Location: Zambia
Posts: 60
Wednesday, 25 December 2013
LEG 3: NAIROBI, KENYA - ISTANBUL, TURKEY
Our arrival in Nairobi was not under great conditions! As soon as we settled at JJ's, we started to inquire about the road north and the news was not good: the rains destroyed parts of the road, leaving behind deep ruts; bikers falling multiple times, even though they were much lighter than we were, with reports of one biker fracturing his arm 4 times in the same day in 4 different places. We then inquired at the Ethiopian Embassy about the visa and they asked us (again) about the Carnet de Passage!!! Without that, they said, no visa is possible. I cannot believe that I got so much trouble with this Carnet with an African registered bike!
Now we were virtually stranded, half way through Africa and with not much time to spare, as we were rushing to get to Europe before Christmas. After all possible solutions debated, I decided to head to Nairobi airport to see what options I have to ship the bike out. We went to Turkish Airlines Cargo and with tremendous headaches, we managed to find a spot on their Cargo Plane from Nairobi to Istanbul. The day I took the bike was the worse day of our trip so far: it took me 6 hours to fight with the corrupt officials at the airport to be able to ship this bike out. First, they said I need to crate the bike, I said no: "Roll on, roll off!" I shouted, pushing my luck. After a while, they said OK, but I need to pay by volume and told me the volume is that of a car... I started to lose my cool and I took a tape measure and measured it myself, coming down in volume by more than half of what they initially said. Then, they said I need to remove the fuel and the battery. I said, there is no fuel and I remove no battery, but just disconnect 1 terminal. Then they decided that the bike needed to be first imported in the country and pay the import taxes and then be exported. This is when I lost it: I went to the top officials and started threatening that if they don't let me go I will make sure I go on the news channels and tell everyone how corrupt they are... why import a foreign vehicle that was in the country for a short while only to export it few hours later? Eventually, when they saw that I am not giving up, the top official from Turkish airline came down personally and told me that things will work out due to my determination and maybe threats. But, no one from the airport wants to pack my bike. I told him, I will pack it myself. So, they gave me a Turkish Airline vest and I went all the way to the plane and loaded and strapped down my own bike on the platform and left the airport. I was ready to faint...

We flew with Turkish Airlines few hours after the cargo plane, so we virtually arrived in Istanbul together with our bike. I must say here that among the great corruption and manipulation in Nairobi, we discovered a young lady, a cargo agent who fought for us like a tigress and eventually got the better of the big guys. Her name is Elizabeth and for reasons that need no explanation I will not disclose her full details, but if any of you are ever in need to ship your bike from Nairobi, let me know and I will give you her email to save you some headaches.

Once we arrived in Istanbul, I was shocked how fast and headache free the process was at the Cargo Terminal. I was wondering around the area, not knowing exactly what to do when a couple of Turkish guys saw me and came, took my papers and within 1 hour, my bike was out of the terminal. There were Customs agents there that helped me and never asked anything in return and they personally took care that I was served with coffee, tea, biscuits, etc while I was waiting. I could not believe how fast things work there, after the stress I endured in Nairobi. Thank you Turkey and Turkish Airlines for an amazing efficiency!

Below, you will find some photos of Turkey (although we spent few days, as we were heading for Greece for warmer weather. From the 40 degrees of Dar Es Salaam, the change was too fast to 4 degrees in Turkey and we literally froze ourselves. For me, it felt very good, but Carmen was not that impressed!

Entering Greece was a pleasure: the landscapes, the weather, and most of all, the people, which I think are some of the most hospitable and friendly people you will find in Europe. I don't think we ever ate anywhere without receiving free drinks and free desserts. We once were looking to buy some oranges and asked the local restaurant owner where we can buy some and he turned to some of his customers and they said: "Oh, we owned citrus farms, come with us". Within minutes, we picked 25 kg of oranges, mandarin, grapefruit and lemons and he did not want any money. He looked at me and he said: "This is who Greek people are and look at what the West did to the Greek people". I was very sad by his suffering, as we can see how the country is under recession but the resilience and beauty of these people will eventually win back the world to them. We are in love with Greece so far and we will restlessly tell everyone to come visit it.

Enjoy the photos, we enjoy Europe so far!
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  #4  
Old 15 Jan 2014
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Join Date: Aug 2012
Location: Zambia
Posts: 60
Leg 4: Athens Greece to Palermo Sicily, 1300 km

The few weeks in Greece were a delight, in spite of our misguided expectations (built by the media, that Greece is in shambles and we would experience negative attitudes). The Greek people were nothing but amazing: hospitable, accommodating, and giving, even though they have little themselves. Most of them speak few languages, even in the smallest of the villages, and of course the food was great. We had a cure of oranges like never before, mainly because they were free for the most part

We were inclined to head to Patra and then take the ferry to Bari Italy, but when we found out that the ferry takes 17 hours, we decided to ride instead. It was a great decision: the road to Igoumenitsa is a delight, winding through mountainous landscapes and with great sea views, as you will see in the pictures below.
We arrived in Igoumenitsa around 6:00 pm and found out that the ferry was leaving at 1 at night. We spent the rest of the evening at a cafe, having tea and biscuits. It was becoming clearer by the hour, as we saw the people coming for the ferry that this was a crossing for immigrants, workers from Albania, Macedonia, and some other Eastern European nations to enter Italy. The police checks were frequent and the security beefed up. Once the ferry arrived, we were shocked to see how small the seating area was and how dirty the ferry appeared, with stinky toilets and garbage all over. We could not find a place to lie down, and we sneaked in the cabins area where we lied on the floor on our bike jackets to find some sleep; I just rode 500 km and I had to ride again in the morning 400 more, so I needed my rest. It was a nightmare of a night,with people shouting in different languages around us, smells of all sorts, loud TV sets in the main seating area, etc. I decided then that there will be less ferry and more riding from now on.

We arrived at Brindisi at 9:00 am Italy time and headed out towards Sicily. Only few short hours later, I had to pull in a B&B on the side of the road because I could not do it anymore. We did not know where to sleep that night and we saw a sign on the side of the road : Les Collines de Gesul so we decided to try it. We climbed some spectacular hills with beautiful Olive gardens and soft green grass in between the trees through which the afternoon light was gently showing and the silence and beauty all around us calmed our spirits down and we felt rested. We were further surprised up the road when we discovered that Les Collines de Gesul is an old castle, with an architecture that sent me back in one of Dumas' novels. Sitting on top of a hill, overlooking the olive orchards around, this place felt out of this world! We got a room with high ceilings, antique furniture and amazing character. I fell asleep happy!

The next morning we headed out early to be able to reach Messina, Sicily before dark. Nothing spectacular on the way, the roads were mostly in construction, so we advanced slow and the vibration from the corrugated road, managed to break two things on my bike, for the first time: my license disc and my GPS bracket. The funny thing was how it happened: the license disc broke in front of me, as we were parked and I was checking the tires, when I saw the disc just slowly falling to the ground. The GPS bracket fell while riding, but I was looking at it as well, because I noticed it was shaking in a strange way; few seconds later it fell straight in my hand. My GPS is now tied with tape around the butt of the former bracket; not so pretty as before but it still does the job.

Once we arrived in Reggio di Calabria, things suddenly changed: beautiful mountains appeared, the sea is beautiful and the great island of Sicily was looming across the channel like a mirage. We jumped on the 10 min. ferry to Messina and spent the night there. Sicily seems a different world then what we have seen so far: more bikers (first thing I noticed) and people are more communicative then the ones we encountered already.
The ride the following morning was very pleasant: the highway is built on super tall stilts around the mountains and, when they could not do that, they built it straight through the mountains. Hundreds of tunnels pierce the Sicilian mountains on the way to Palermo.

We stopped for gas in a small town, called Santo Stefano di Camastra. It was the greatest decision of that day! The town is high in the mountains, with very tiny streets winding around it and great sea views! The people were out for a stroll and were very attracted by the site of these two bikers that looked strange to them. We were very happy to walk around it a little bit.

Few hours later we were in Palermo, a large city with amazing history and fantastic buildings. It was sad to see how much garbage is thrown all over the place, but if you can overlook this you will enjoy Palermo.

There are no accidents to report, no other incidents either. Below you will find photos of parts of this stretch of our trip.
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  #5  
Old 21 Jan 2014
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Location: Zambia
Posts: 60
Leg 5: Palermo Italy to Perpignan France, 1900 km

ALMOST STUCK IN PALERMO
SURPRISE IN SAN LUCIDO
COSTIERA AMALFITANA!
DELUGE IN POMPEII
"FLOATING" TO LIVORNO
"DROWNED" IN NICE
"FROZEN" IN PERPIGNAN

In the last 9 days, we were strongly reminded of the nature in Europe in January and that, after all, we are trying to ride around the world and that it would not be a walk in the park.
In Palermo, our first intention was to find a ferry that would take us north to Corsica and then France; we discovered very quickly that the ferry to Corsica only starts in April so we were put in the position to face the riding North, towards the Italian Alps and then cross into France by land. We checked the weather and we decided to head out, even though the forecast was a bit of rain here and there. I told Carmen: "ah, it's nothing, we will take it a day at a time and avoid this whole thing"; me and my freaking wishful thinking!

We had a magnificent ride from Palermo towards Messina and then on to Cosenza where we veered towards the Tyrrhenian Sea to the little seaside town of San Lucido. We had no clue what we would find here, but the road was great, winding on the Italy coast in the great afternoon sun. We were happy just with the riding and the beautiful Mediterranean on our left.
Arriving at San Lucido we found a little hotel called CLICHE, a great looking place, clean and very new. Alessandro, the owner/manager was a very welcoming, warm host, making us feel at home immediately. The room was overlooking the sea and the village of San Lucido is a quiet, pleasant community. We went to buy some food at the local Spar and I didn't realize that it was a one way street and as I was pulling out against the traffic, a local came out of a bar and told in signs that it is a one way street. Cars were coming from the other side already and, to let me pass, the man jumped in the middle of the street and stopped the whole traffic to let me pass. No one objected, which is not a general rule in Italy

We had a peaceful night in San Lucido and in the morning, after the usual Italian breakfast of brioche and cake and coffee, we headed out towards Napoli. I heard before of the great, record-holding, coast of Amalfi, between Solerno and Naples, so I told Carmen that this would be amazing, to ride our bike through this beautiful coast. Well, we did it! Not only that we did it, and the coast deserves its name, but we did it in one of the craziest rain storms I have been in my life! Photos below do no justice to that place and the storm we have been through, but I have videos and some day soon, I hope I can find a place to be able to edit the clips and put them on youtube for you; then you will understand!
The road through Amalfi is carved into the mountain, right above the sea, but this is not the only amazing thing they have done; they built their villages and homes, virtually suspended above the sea; not only that, but they planted orchards and vineyards that are almost vertical on the mountain and there are roads and infrastructure leading to all these places. They have 5 star hotels built almost vertically on that mountain face and no one seems to be bothered by the massive peaks behind them or the few hundred meters drop in front of their houses. We rode that coast from the sea level all the way to 1100 m above the sea as we were going on the other side towards Pompeii. It was pouring down rain, we even entered into the clouds as we approached the peak of the mountain and the road was slippery. But we made it! I was in awe of both this amazing coastline and of my beautiful bike that survived that, in pouring rain, winding through the narrow roads at very low speeds for 4 hours. By the time we got to Pompeii that night, we were soaked, even though we have waterproof gear; nothing would be waterproof there in that storm.

We pulled into Zeus Camping at Pompeii as darkness fell. It was still pouring, rivers were flowing through the streets and I sank my bike in the pools of water a few times. I didn't care anymore, I wanted to just sleep somewhere. We were cold, wet and in a very strange place. We decided to take a couple days to dry off and get ready for the next step, which we hoped would be Genoa.
While things were drying out in camp, we took a stroll the next day and visited the ruins of Pompeii, which, I must say, were a great surprise for me. The atmosphere there is not that of a museum or just a place to visit, I felt we were walking among the graves of the people that found their death there.
Goethe said: "I don't know of any natural disasters in the history of the world that brought so much joy to all of us then the Pompeii disaster"
I am not sure if he is completely right or not, but I do agree that this place is a beautiful place to walk through and experience it. To be able to see their homes, their temples and in some cases even the bodies that were caught by the disaster while sleeping or praying or eating and you can actually see on their faces the expression they had when they died. It was humbling, to say the least!

We left the next morning with dry gear and as we headed from Pompeii, the sun was shining and the roads were dry and I told Carmen: "today will be a great day to ride". 1 hour later we were in hell!
The wind picked up and within minutes the sky got dark and it started to rain so heavily that I could not see properly in front of me. Trucks were passing us and sheets of water would smack me straight into my face and instantly drenched me. I think I sent at least 100 beautiful phrases to the Italian truckers that day!
We stopped every 2 hours or so to have some tea and warm up at the Rest areas on the highway and every time we got in, people would give us a long look and rightly so; we were dripping heavily and we were bundled up with several pieces of gear that are not too pretty, like: buffs, bandannas, face masks all soaking wet.
There was no way we would make it to Genoa; there were the mountains and also the tunnels, darkness was coming and I hate riding at night, even when it is dry, but not it was impossible. Towards the afternoon I decided we would sleep in Livorno and we were happy to do that. First, we would dry out and secondly, Livorno turned out to be an amazing city, full of clean streets and buildings (no more garbage everywhere like in Sicily and Southern Italy) and with great places to eat and full of people walking in the streets even though it was still raining as we arrived there.
Well the next few days were spent, as you have guessed by now, in hard rain on the road, drying out at night and rain again the next day. With the exception of the last day, when we headed out from Nice to Perpignan: the sun was out and we said, finally, here is a nice day. Today we would just enjoy it; yeah, right! It was 5 freaking degrees because we were heading for the Pyrenees and there it snowed like hell the night before and all the cold air was coming straight under my goggles and freezing my face.
So, here we are, in the great European winter, still drying out and still trying to warm up. I never thought I would miss the 40 degrees temperature of Africa, but I am;
I don't know how we did not get sick, but I think all the lemons and oranges we had in Greece gave us more protection then we thought.

My bike is approaching 40.000 km, I need to soon do the valve adjustment, and a full service. I must also say that I am totally in love with my tires! The Yamaha dealer in Pretoria that did my service in October last year did not have the Metzeler Karoos and he said he can put the Heidenau K60. I have already 10.000 km done since Pretoria and there is not even a dent in these tires... They don't look like they were worn at all! I am sure I can ride for at least 7-8000 km more. Long live Heidenau!
My bike gave me absolutely no trouble for the past 40.000 km and I am not just saying this because it is my bike (which I am, but I don't care). This baby was dropped several times, sank in mud, drenched in rain, drowned in the Flood of Italy and many other things. I only changed the battery in Athens and I just put gas and keep going. I did not inflate the tires once since Pretoria, I did not top up the oil, heck, I didn't even check bolts or anything. We are 40 kg over the Manual top weight (sorry Yamaha) and this bike handles like it is brand new and naked. Not only that she does not care how much we weigh or load her, but it uses now less gas per 100 km than before. I now do 4.4 l per 100 km with over 500 kg on her (wet bike, accessories, baggage, us), instead of 5.3 l per 100 when I bought it. I am very happy about this, especially in Europe, where the gas is out of this world. It looks like they bring this freaking petrol from Mars, that is how expensive it is.
Below you will see some photos of our trip north. I am going to bed now.
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  #6  
Old 28 Jan 2014
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Alls well

Great report, glad all is going well, keep smiling.
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  #7  
Old 28 Jan 2014
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Hi Quinton,

Nice to hear from you. Where are you? everything ok?
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  #8  
Old 29 Jan 2014
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All good here, in South Africa doing the tourist bit for another month or so then decision time, off to the Cape area. Ride safe.

Julian

Blog Horizons Unlimited Motorcycle Travellers' Stories - Julian Quinton
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  #9  
Old 1 Feb 2014
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Leg 6: Perpignan, France to Malaga, Spain; 1300 km

CATALAN BREEZE
CAMBRILS ANGEL
A SPOT OF "CLOONEY"
LA MARINA
CHILLING WITH JOHN LENNON IN ALMERIA
BALCON DE EUROPA

My brother says that perfect moments come rarely and they are short lived; this is how we felt entering Spain, although I must say that these Spanish moments lasted longer than I thought.

We left Perpignan on a beautiful morning with Pyrenees topped with snow and the sunshine brightly lighting our helmets. It was chilly but splendid. We entered Spain on a great note, the road is beautiful, especially that I now decided to set my GPS to avoid tolls. I had enough of the European toll highways, and now the English lady inside my Garmin took us through beautiful Catalan villages towards Tarragona. We decided to avoid Barcelona, I have been there several times before and we needed to find camping closer to the Yamaha Dealer in Reus where I booked my Yamaha for valve adjustment and service. As we left the mountains behind us, the wind increased and started to blow us sideways, growing in strength as we approached Tarragona. Eventually, I thought it will sweep us off the road as we almost fell twice on some of the overpasses. Carmen was shaking behind me like a leaf. My arms were already stiff from hanging on for dear life... When we pulled in Amphora D'Arcs Campsite in Cambrils, we were finished. We got a very small pitch to set up our tent and while the wind was still blowing hard, the temperatures dropped to about 6 degrees. We bundled in our sleeping bags inside the tent and got ready for the night. Carmen pulled out the laptop and tried the wifi connection but the password they gave us was not working so she dressed up and went to the reception to ask for another one. At the reception the boss' son started talking to her and as soon as he found out that we are in a tent, he offered to give us a bungalow for the same price of the camping and Carmen came back with a smile on her face, saying: "we have to move, we got a bungalow"

Few minutes later, we were inside a beautiful wooden cabin, fully equipped for self catering: kitchen with stove, fridge, microwave, etc, heat, inside bathroom and so on. For the same price as the camping! We slept deep and soundly that night, even though I don't mind my tent at all, I love that little thing, I spent so many nights in it, I miss it if I don't camp for few days.

We spent 4 days in Cambrils, as the Yamaha needed to order a part from Holland to do my valve adjustment and this gave us time to wash everything that was dirty, the results of the weeks of rain, sleet and smoke endured from Greece to here. We cleaned up everything, including our bike gear, boots, gloves, helmets, etc.
When we left, we stopped by the reception to say goodbye to George, the boss' son, and thanked him for his generosity. We pulled the money out to pay, but he said: "No, there is no payment necessary, it is my gift to you!" I fought it for a while but he said, No way! Thank you George for your kindness shown to strangers and for giving us a great time in Cambrils Amphora D'Arcs campsite.

We headed slowly towards Valencia; the wind was still creating havoc on the street and was fooling around with my bike again. We arrived in Valencia around noon and I pulled into the City of Arts and Sciences, a major landmark of Valencia and great site to see. As we rode under the great arches, we noticed lots of filming cranes and screens and security everywhere. We pulled to have lunch and I checked online to see what the big deal was. We found out that George Clooney is filming his Disney's Tomorrowland movie in Valencia as it looks very futuristic. We rode our bike ride under his movie set if I didn't know better I would think that he planned his shoot exactly when I was riding through there, just to see my bike

An hour later we were pulling into the La Marina International Camping, a great place by the sea where a lot of retired Europeans are spending their winter in this huge village, designed for their campers. These people were really nicely set, with terraces and carpets under canopies, with flowers and lights and barbeques and everyone seemed to know each other. We arrived there and felt immediately that we are like aliens to them. Imagine all the fancy campers nicely set on campus and among them my little tent and my bike. When we rode to our site, everyone came out of their campers to see what is happening. People took photos of us and the bike and asking me all sorts of questions. They were from Sweden, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, etc. Nice advertising for my expedition!

Two days later, after a relaxing camping experience and nice strolls by the Med Sea, we headed towards beautiful Andalusia. Only this name provokes in me great visions of landscapes, poetry, great food and amazing people with their dances, music and customs. Rolling hills packed with perfect citrus orchards and olive trees line each side of the road. Soft sunlight was warming the already blooming trees and everything seemed out of this world. I was falling in love fast with this place and the beautiful Spanish people. We enjoyed the beauty of Almeria, where John Lennon wrote his Strawberry Fields Forever song while shooting the film: How I Won the War in Spain, in 1966. His statue rests in the centre of the town.
We also had to visit the famed Cabo De Gata park, and I enjoyed tremendously the ride there as the road follows the mountains of the Cape and it is a great delight to ride a bike there. It was also there that we met the most bikers on the road, on a beautiful Sunday ride to the Cape.

Finally, we came to rest in Malaga, which we will have to explore for the next few days, from Balcon de Europa to Alhambra, from Marbella to Gibraltar.
I have to say that Southern Spain is a splendid place, even though the famed Levante is bothering us almost every time I climb the bike. This famous wind is incredible, bringing moisture to the East Mediterranean and warmth to the West and it does create amazing waves on the sea.
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  #10  
Old 10 Mar 2014
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Leg 7: Morocco, 2200 km

EYES WIDE OPEN !

On a windy morning, we left behind the Rock of Gibraltar and we were staring at the continent of Africa once again. We never dreamed of coming to Morocco. Our original itinerary already changed many times, as I expected from the beginning. Morocco came about as a forced detour, because our European visas were expiring and we needed to get out of the European Union somewhere and come back for another 90 days stay. I never like "forced" anything so I wasn't looking forward to Morocco. I thought: "Let's get it over with, so we can come back and proceed north!". However, as I sat there on the ferry looking at the coast of Africa, my heart was telling me something else; I was getting excited and I didn't know why. Maybe because I was coming to Africa once more, or maybe the new frontier ahead was tickling my adventure spirit. In any case, I was curious to see what would turn out with this detour.
We arrived in Tangier, one hour away from Tarifa and even though it is so close to Europe, the moment you step on the dock from the ferry you are hit by the noises, smells and sights that only Africa can produce. I was back into familiar waters!
We passed quickly through customs and Immigration (quite a surprise for an African country) and headed straight for the Tangier Medina, the first place to see because that is where the action is in every city. Small streets, tiny houses and lots of people, children and little shops as well as the food places make up the fabric of any Medina. As Medinas go in Morocco, we realize soon that Tangier is not one of the best, but it made a strong impression on us because it was our first one. We settle for the only night in Tangier (locals say, forget the North and head for the South and Center) and we had our first Tajine, couscous and a local taste of the spiced drinks. I loved them from the first taste. Nothing better than spices in an exotic food.
Early the next morning we jumped on our bike and headed south to Casablanca. The road is perfect, the sights beautiful and Africa was pulsating in front of me again. Few hours later we pulled into Ocean Bleu Campsite in Mohammedia East, 30 km north of Casablanca. Everyone enjoys this side of Casablanca, apparently, as the city itself is nothing like the image it has in the world. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman did not even step in the real Casablanca as the whole of the movie was shot in Hollywood and the only true Moroccan in the cast was the door keeper and he was not even credited in the cast list. Casablanca is actually a broken city, currently being rebuilt by the King of Morocco, who wants to remake the original beauty of this city, as designed by the greatest French architects. The city is the only one in the world that was entirely designed from the air.
Once settled in Mohammedia, we visited the beautiful Hassan II Mosque, the second largest mosque in the world and the only one that non-muslims can visit. It is an impressive sight and in my opinion, about the only one of the few things worth visiting in Casablanca.
2 days later we headed East for Marrakech; this was high on our list, especially for the famous Jemaa El Fna, the beautiful Medina, the Atlas mountains, the gardens and palaces. It is hard to explain in words when photos say so much more. Below you will understand why.
In Marrakech we stayed at the famous Relais de Marrakech, a beautiful campsite located inside La Palmeraie Conservation and few km outside Marrakech. The city is beautifully designed, clean and pleasant to the eyes.
While at the Relais, I spotted a small brochure with a place called: Les Cascades D'Ouzoud and I felt compelled to read it. This little brochure proved to be the beginning of an experience that would almost pop our eyes out as we discovered a Morocco that I never dreamed of, with places that seem unreal and people with more than 3000 years of history behind them.
Ouzoud is a little Berber village in the High Atlas Mountains, where farmers and sheperds made their living for many centuries. I found their place a paradise, hidden in the mountains and providing them with everything they need for survival; the soil is fertile (I saw the most almond trees I have ever seen before), the water and air pure and the landscapes out of a Swiss story book. On top of all that, they have the spectacular Ouzoud Falls, fed by the small Ouzoud river that looks quite unimpressive but creates a spectacle when it hits the canyon right below the village. Again, the photos will, hopefully, say more. We explored this place, with its amazing villages, canyons, caves, system of water falls and olive groves for 4 days. We camped at the neat and perfectly located Zebra camping, owned by Paul and Renate from Netherlands. Their camp is a perfect spot to enjoy the silence and the sights of the Ouzoud Village.
When we left Ouzoud, Renate recommended that we take the road less traveled to Ouarzazate, crossing the High Atlas on a mountain road, 2200 m high. "You will never regret it" she said, " you will not see more than 5 cars and the landscapes will shock you". What an understatement that was! There were no more than 3 cars for 7 hours on that road, a tiny, mountain track through very isolated villages and very high up in the mountains. Carmen filmed the high passes, so soon you will be able to see this episode on our YouTube channel. It was challenging riding, soft terrain at times, high passes with snow on the mountain and lots of curves. But it was the best experience to date as far as biking was concerned. We arrived in the Valley of the Dades late at night, tired, dusty, but super excited. In front of us there was the Sahara and my nostrils were flaring like a camel's nose in the desert wind. Deserts will always stir me to the depths of my soul and Sahara is one I wanted to encounter since I read of her in my childhood. I slept uneasy that night, knowing that the next day we would leave the high Atlas behind and enter the largest desert on the planet.
The morning was cold and brisk, as only the desert mornings are and the Gorges de Dades were shining brightly in the sun. The road was winding through spectacular scenery, with rugged rocks on each side and oases in the middle, following ancient riverbeds to the desert. As soon as we cleared Errachidia we could see the horizons opening up and the winds of Sahara rising in the East. It was a feeling that cannot be described properly, unless you are a Hemingway or a Bernard Shaw, and I am neither one. My deep love for Africa and for the desert compelled me to open up the throttle until I felt Carmen's fingers pushing deeper into my side, signalling a slight stress level increase on her part. "It would look stupid" she said, " if we die within reach of Sahara and not ever see her". Her logic seemed impressive.
Few hours later, we saw yellow dunes rising on the Eastern horizon and my heart started to pump harder; I was coming to Sahara on my own two wheels, a little like the Berbers on their dromaderies, who are the first and true nomads of our world, self sufficient and free.
Even though Merzouga is a popular destination for Sahara-bound expeditions, we decided to pull into the little Berber village of Hassi Labied. It is a clump of mud and clay buildings, right next to the Erg Chebbi dunes (which no one, even the Berbers, knows why they are called like that) with lots of children running around and shouting as we entered the village on our bike.
We ended up camping at Oceans de Dunes, a simple campground owned by 5 Berber brothers. We loved it from the first moment, not only because it is walking distance from the dunes, but also because these people did everything themselves, from building it, to cooking the food, to making expeditions into the desert. All together, they speak English, French, German, Spanish, Arabic, and a couple of Berber dialects.
Not even 2 days from our arrival, we asked Hussin to get us a couple of Dromaderies and Berber clothing so we can get into the desert and sleep in their "bivouac", a desert dwelling of the nomads. Below you will see our transformation into Touareg Berbers, as they called us. To ride into the Sahara on these amazing animals, to sleep under the stars and to eat a slow cooked Tajine, prepared by two Berber men, was more than I expected. I knew the feeling of the desert from the Kalahari, the Namib, and the North American Deserts, but Sahara blew me away! The peace, the camels, the colors and the miracle of water in the desert, not even 2 meters underground, are just a few of Sahara's attributes.
At the end of our "forced detour", we feel overwhelmed; Morocco turned out to be THE highlight of our trip so far, perhaps because it was a new and unexpected change and perhaps because it is a special place, that offers so much diversity and beauty. I fell in love with a new desert and a new tribe and I have now new friends in this country.
Update information for all those that are wondering about the stories and determination behind this expedition:
our website:
www. nomadsportsacademy.com
Here you will find the story of our orphans and of our Sports Academy for Orphans. It is a challenging project that aims to reach over 20.000 orphans and underprivileged children in the area where we live and to build a future for them.
Due to our consistent talk about this project to virtually everyone we meet on the road, the news is spreading and thousands of people, organizations, newspapers, magazines, etc are finding out and stay in touch with us.
Our blog is growing every day with people from the far corners of the world and we thank you, all our readers, for telling others to follow up with our adventures.
Because we have quite a bit of photos that would not fit here, you can see them all at:
Nomad Sports Academy and click on the Morocco Gallery
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  #11  
Old 28 Mar 2014
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Talking Leg 8: Portugal and galicia, spain

We came out of Morocco very excited about the wonders we have seen in that beautiful country; however, we were also tired, full of mud and dust from the Sahara and the Atlas and rattled out of our brains (some of the country roads in Morocco are in bad shape). When we arrived at the ferry terminal in Tangier the police checked our bags for drugs, probably because we looked so strange.
The ferry crossing was rough, half of the people on the ship were vomiting all over the place (myself included). The swell was so huge I thought the boat will crack at any minute. I was happy to touch Spain again, however briefly. The afternoon towards Portugal was warm and peaceful and we rode into Portimao with the sun setting in the west and we felt again the European levante, although not as bad as before.
Portugal was a sweet and short passing, the country is tiny, with beautiful villages in the South, even though remote and sparsely populated, with an amazing coastline to Lisbon. We camped for 4 days in Portimao, resting and washing everything after Morocco and then we intended on riding to Lisbon and camping there but we had a mishap with my "trusted" Garmin Zumo, which by this time I was ready to drown in the Atlantic. We entered the coordinates for the camp outside Setubal and it almost guided us somewhere out at sea. This was not the first time for this to happen: in Tarragona we entered the Yamaha Dealer's address and it took us out at sea and it showed us a red line in the ocean for about a kilometer. In Bilbao, it took us on a piece of highway that was cut off above the city, with no warning. It does not see One way streets in the city, and sometimes it just loses the whole road altogether leaving me clean out in the bush. So it is a love/hate relationship, but I think I will break it off soon.
Therefore, when we saw that we are stranded in the middle of nowhere (literally; see the photo below), we decided to keep going. We entered Lisbon around 5:30 in the evening and again the lady in the GPS (I have many names for her, but they are not very nice) decided to take us out to sea again and of course we got lost. I got angry so I headed North on the highway towards Porto, passing Lisbon fast. Porto was high on my list and I wanted to experience it a little bit more than anything else in Portugal. I was right on: Porto has a medieval feel to it and we loved walking its streets around the center and all the way down to the river.
We were lucky (we thought) to find a place to sleep right in the city center, as we could walk to everything, but it turned out that the street we were on was full of pubs and that night some drunks kicked my bike on the right side, breaking my right panier box and my headlight bulbs. I found her laying on one side in the morning and I felt like crying. We did almost 17.000 km with her through many wild places and nothing happened and we come to the civilized world to go through this. It was a rough start of our Galician trip!
I patched her (I had to unlock the panier box, unscrew the foot support, bend back the support, fix the box and replace the bulbs), in the end it was not a trip-threatening event, so we loaded her up and off we went; Galicia's wind was blowing in our faces and I could hardly wait to see it.
Galicia (for those that hear of it only now) is a province in North West Spain, that feels more like Ireland than Spain. One of the favorite places for Ernest Hemingway and a magical place for thousands of pilgrims and tourists that come to its heart every year: Santiago de Compostela. Santiago (St. James, the brother of John the Zebedee, the sons of Thunder from the Bible), apparently preached here in the first century and is buried in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. To get there, for hundreds of years, pilgrims needed to walk the so called Camino de Santiago (St. James' Way) with the climax in the town itself. Even today, some 200.000 pilgrims of all types come here. To qualify as a pilgrim (and get a certificate and 3 days of free food) you need to walk at least 200 km on the Camino de Santiago or cycle for at least 300 km. We entered Santiago by motorbike, of course, and it was interesting to see how many people actually do this thing. We love Galicia, from many points of view: the natural rias (fjord-like inlets) with their fantastic Eucalyptus forests and beautiful villages, the people, who are very friendly and the history of this place. We tried to portray what we have seen in our photos, but no matter how hard we try, it is quite impossible to reenact what our eyes have seen. My most favorite moment was when we reached Cape Finisterre by bike! Believed to be the feared End of the World (hence the Finis Terre in latin), Romans came here after major wars to pay tribute to their gods and thank them for being alive. Whatever the reason was, I can tell you that when we reached the Cape, we stopped breathing! It does feel like the end of the planet, but the beauty is spectacular and to see my bike all the way from Cape Town (Cape of Good Hope) coming to Cape Finisterre was a very happy moment for me.
Galicia will remain a highlight for our expedition around the world! The weather may be capricious but the people and the sights more than make up for it. If you ever have a chance to see it, you will not regret it.

This concludes our experience in Southern Europe: for the past 3 months we rode our bike from Bosphorus to Gibraltar and up the Atlantic Coast to the Basque Country, more than 7000 km of unparalleled scenery, people, customs and experiences. We now enter a new chapter: Western and Northern Europe.
PHOTOS AT:
Nomad Sports Academy
click on the Portugal, Galicia gallery
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  #12  
Old 27 Apr 2014
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Cool Leg 9: France, Belgium, Netherlands: 2100 km

I was 9 years old when I first read Dumas’ “The Three Musqueteers” and I read the whole series several times again throughout my life. I loved the books when I was 9 and I had the same excitement reading them when I was 39. The description of French countryside and its people, customs and food was what made me dream of France for a long time. Of course, I have been to France probably 20 times, but it was always in a hurry, driving to or from somewhere and never really taking the time for the countryside.
Leaving Northern Spain by San Sebastian, we entered the Maritime Provinces of France, from Bayonne in the South all the way to La Vallee de Loire and up to Normandy by the English Channel. This stretch of France, famous for its culinary delights (rightly so), was exactly what I dreamed of since I was a child. The perfectly manicured villages, with tiny but impeccable houses and lawns lining the equally tiny and winding country roads, were mingled with fields with yellow flowers gently rolling in the morning breeze and caressed by the April sun. The smell of the village bakery, where even on Sunday people were coming out with fresh bread and pastries for their brunch with the family and friends; the elderly people, walking hand in hand and with woolen scarves over their necks and stylish hats or basques; we couldn’t believe how different country life is to the city life in France. All in all, I was riding the bike but gasping at the scenes in front of us, which were incredible, village after village. One of our favorite cities on the West Coast was Nantes, set on the Loire River and boasting some impressive architecture and cathedrals. However, I have to say that nothing compares to the villages and small towns we encountered; and this is just our opinion, perhaps because we love the off the beaten places so much.
The food is impeccable, of course, from the foie gras to their cheeses and meats and veggies and fruit and certainly for their amazing recipes of seafood. From province to province and apparently from village to village, same kind of food tastes different than the previous. We have never seen so many kinds of cheeses as we saw now; Charles de Gaulle was right when he said: “A country that has more than 400 types of cheese cannot be governed”; at least not from a cheese point of view!
We exited France at Calais/Dunkerque and entered Belgium and headed for Bruges (or Brugge as they call it in West Flanders). I wanted to take enough time to explore this city, apparently the only one in Europe that has the most medieval buildings still habitable by locals. From here, we could explore the surrounding regions of Belgium and Netherlands, because the distances are relatively small compared to what we have experienced before. Amsterdam is only 250 km away, Ghent, 70 km, Antwerp, 90 km, etc so it seemed like a good place to center ourselves. Brugge proved to be more than I expected and we fell in love with the city right away. The character of the buildings, the canals and the many medieval bridges that cross them, the architecture and the spirit of it all make this city one of the top 3 on our list of favorite places. Words are not needed much, the photos below convey the message better.
My bike reached the 50.000 km mark here in Brugge, 20.000 km from Livingtone, Zambia and from our orphans. It is a great milestone, as this is 30% of our Round the World trip. I also changed my tires here, over 21000 km from Pretoria and I think I had 500 more km on those Heidenau K60. I put again Heidenaus and I am hoping to ride on them all the way to San Diego. My bike had its 50.000 km service here at the Yamaha Dealer and we are now ready to face the East.
We visited Keukenhof in Netherlands, of course (if you have never heard of Keukenhof, check it out online) to see the Tulip Festival. It was the best 15 Euro we ever spent. I will say nothing on this subject because this is a visual experience so enjoy the spectacle.
New horizons await now, our European journey is slowly coming to an end and I smell already the flavors of the Great East, from Russia all the way to Japan. I take it a day at a time, looking at the few hundred kilometers that I have to ride to my next destination. That’s how we did 20.000 km so far and I think it is the best way for us to cope with these immense spaces in front of us.


Photos at:
Nomad Sports Academy
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  #13  
Old 16 May 2014
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Talking Leg 10: Bruges, belgium to trondheim, norway, 3100

LEG 10: BRUGES TO TRONDHEIM, NORWAY: 3100 KM
It is pissing rain here in Trondheim as I write this and I am wondering when is this going to end? The past 2 weeks gave me nothing but cold, rain, snow and high winds, with the exception of few short magical hours of blue skies and perfect temperatures.
As I left Belgium, the mood was not good, even the damn music I listened to was talking about loneliness and the weather was cloudy and disturbingly depressing. I was supposed to ride 300 km that day to a camp in Holland; I rode like a maniac 690 km all the way to Northern Germany to a village I don't know the name of and slept in a camp out in the bush, with no one in sight. I wasn't going to stop for few days anywhere until I got to Norway. I rode to Flensburg the next day, then Frederikshavn, Denmark, where again I camped in a place all by myself as the season is only starting and no one was camping. I took the ferry to Gotheborg, Sweden and I was supposed to camp in Sweden somewhere, but rain was on me yet again, and I decided to just ride. I ended up somewhere between Honefoss and Klaeken in Norway, in a beautiful village. Norway was beginning to show its beauty from the moment I crossed the border. It would be the start of a shocking journey, of a solo ride that would take me so far through 7 mountain ranges, 5 fjords and extremes of weather, from 1 degree on top of mountains covered with snow to 21 degrees in Hardangerfjord, camping in a cherry orchard in paradise. I decided to split in 2 episodes my Scandinavian tale, mainly because of distances (over 3000 km so far and still 3000 more to Helsinki) and because of the amount of photos I collected. It is impossible to give you a just idea of what I am seeing in one post with 30-40 photos. I have over 600 so far and they keep on piling. I do 400 km in 9 hours because I stop a lot and film and take photos. Below you will understand...
Norway so far has climbed to the 2nd most beautiful country in the world (in my book), a short second after New Zealand. West Coast of Canada comes 3rd, Alaska and Northern Canada 4th, South Africa 5th, Namibia 6th, Vietnam 7th, Australia 8th, Vanuatu 9th, Morocco 10th, in case you wondered what the 10 top countries of this traveler are.
Norway has managed to shock me to the core of my soul, because the diversity and marvel of this country are hard to describe. Mountains few thousand meters high, packed with snow and minutes later you find yourself at the bottom of a canyon sitting on the beach of a fjord with perfectly clear waters surrounded by small villages with red houses reflecting in the mirror below. Hardangerfjord is home to more than 400.000 fruit trees, lining the slopes of the snow capped mountains above, all the way to the waterline. Peaches, cherries, pears, apples and plums, all were in bloom when I was there (May is the perfect time to visit Hardangerfjord, apparently), releasing their perfumes everywhere and making this place look like out of a Heidi story in the Swiss Alps. The farmers there supply more than 60% of Norway's fruit from an area of about 10 km long.
From Hardanger I headed to the famous Geirangerfjord, 500 km north through some of the most dramatic landscapes I have ever been in my life. Rugged mountains with extremely steep slopes where roads were built, waving their way down in the valleys, immense tunnels dug through the belly of the mountains (I was lucky to ride through the Laerdal Tunnel, the longest in the world, stretching 25 km through a massive mountain. These people didn't just built tunnels, they build parking spaces with blue lights (see below) and even roundabouts, sending you to different directions right there under the massive rock. They didn't even bother to cement the tunnels but left them carved into the stone for a natural look. Apparently, the granite is so strong, they don't need to do anything else but to carve their way through it. It was very humbling to ride my bike through these tunnels, especially that many of the smaller ones don't even have lighting so you have to really feel your way through them (not good for me, as I ride with tinted goggles, making me completely blind inside these tunnels).
Their standard of life is higher than anywhere I have been before, and the prices reflect that: I was lucky to buy all my food in Germany otherwise I would have been forced to beg here. With my kind of daily budget (25 Euro, food, gas, accommodation) I couldn't even serve a proper breakfast here. On the other hand, all water in Norway is safe to drink and everywhere you turn, even in the smallest, most remote village, the facilities are impeccable.
I arrived in Trondheim exhausted, cold to my bones and excited in the same time, for having crossed all those mountains, through so many landscapes and places and seeing so much beauty. My mind is still racing with the images that entered my eyes. I wish I was a professional photographer with professional equipment to capture all that I have seen, but I managed to capture images that will be with me for a long time. I was just lucky I guess to arrive here on my own terms, riding my own bike and having the freedom to choose where and how long to stay.
From here on, Finmark will start soon with the Sami people and their beautiful locations and herds of reindeer. I only hope I can reach Nordkapp without having to freeze on the way there
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Old 28 May 2014
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Thumbs up Leg 11: Trondheim norway to helsinki finland: 3500 km

NORDKAPP, NORDKAPP, NORDKAPP!!!

I am looking at the bike’s odometer and it tells me I have done 6600 km from Bruges and 3500 km from Trondheim, Norway where I posted my last blog post. I am in a quaint village close to Helsinki, resting at a friend’s house (thank you Jan for your generosity and friendship, it saved my life). All my gear is soaked, muddy and I am exhausted and on the verge of collapse. The past 2 weeks have been the most challenging of the entire expedition so far. With the exception of few glorious hours of sunshine here and there, I rode the bike through the worst weather I could have imagined: high winds (highest at Nordkapp, 20m/s), low temperatures (1 Degree Celsius) and snow, icy roads and then rain all the way to Southern Finland.
I left Trondheim in heavy clouds, heading north to Mosjoen. The road was straighter and the riding was not difficult, except that it rained on me the whole day. The camp in Mosjoen was lonely but they had good facilities and I made sure I used their warm kitchen where I cooked and dried my clothes. It is amazing how your spirits are lifted up when you cook a warm meal and rest in a dry environment. This would be my second last haven of warmth and while I didn’t know about it, I had a sense that Nordkapp will not let me conquer it without putting up a fight.
As I headed north to Narvik, I passed the Arctic Circle on top of a mountain. The day was miserable, of course, low clouds, wind and 3 degrees. The Center at the Arctic Circle was open but empty, no visitors, as the girl at the counter told me that this is too early in the season for visitors. I got that from several other people who told me I am crazy to attempt Nordkapp this time of the year.
Narvik Camp was closed so I camped wild (in Norway and most of Scandinavia you are allowed to camp virtually anywhere where there are no farms, plantations or private properties, it is called the Right of Access), on top of a hill overlooking the Narvik Fjord. It was a quiet night and I needed to rest, as the next day I was heading for Alta, my last stop before Nordkapp. I was already riding 500 km per day, which is nothing if you are riding in Namibia (where I rode 1300 km in one day, because the roads are straight, virtually no traffic and very little population), but not in Norway, where the speed limit is rarely 80km/h and the roads are winding around the high mountains.
As I headed to Alta the landscape changed to round-top mountains and more snow. It was becoming very desolate, with fewer villages and less trees. I felt I was riding in Nunavut, Canada and I shook my head, suddenly realizing what is waiting for me. When I arrived in Alta, rain started, yet again, but I was already set with my tarp over my tent so I was dry, fortunately. It rained most of the night and the next day and while I was cooking, the lady from the camp came and told me that I could stay in a cabin without extra charge. She must have seen in me a suffering soul and felt pity... I was surprised that a Norwegian would offer me something without money (no disrespect intended, but Norwegians should join Planet Earth and have prices that can actually be reasonable: I paid 1 Euro for 1 Egg in Mosjoen in a grocery store, where I paid 1.09 Euros for 10 eggs in Rovaniemi, Finland. 5 Euro for a loaf of bread is unreasonable in my humble opinion, and over 2 Euro for a liter of petrol in a country that has immense oil reserves, seems to me a “little” ridiculous), but as I talked to her, I found out she was Finnish. Aaaah! God bless the Finnish! No wonder she talked to me, as throughout all my traveling through Norway, for 3 weeks and over 3000 km, only 4 people talked to me and were curious about my journey.
I woke up the next morning in a snow blizzard, 1 degree Celsius and close to 10 cm of snow weighing heavily on my tarp and covering my bike (see photos below). Nordkapp was showing its teeth, as I had only 240 km to go to complete this quest. I waited one more night and the next morning, May 23rd at 6:00 am I left Alta and headed for Nordkapp. The road took me through a mountain pass and it was dry, but as I climbed the mountain, just rounding a peak, I hit ice on the road, blown by the heavy wind on top of the mountain. I didn’t have much speed, I think less than 60 km/h, but I came on the ice too suddenly and I started skidding towards the left side of the road pushed also by the wind. I was screaming in the helmet on my own and I used engine breaking to reduce the speed but the bike being so heavy it was heading dangerously towards the cliff. I put both my feet on the ground to maintain stability so I don’t tip over and I spotted a large snow pile and I headed straight for it. I thought it might be better in the snow than at the bottom of that cliff. I hit the snow pile hard, ice flying everywhere but I stopped and I was happy to be alive. The road was very lonely that morning, it was cold and I was frozen stiff. I couldn’t push the bike, of course, and I dug around it as much as I could and I jumped on it and I did what I thought it would be the best choice: I opened up the throttle and let it rip hard into the snow. My amazing bike (which has never seen so much snow and ice in her life) and my amazing Heidenau K60 tires pulled me out of the frozen snow that morning and back on the road. The rest of the mountain pass was done very slowly, 20 km/h with both feet down until I reached the valley below and I stopped on the side of the road to control my shaking (whether it was from the cold or from the idea that I could have died frozen up there, I don’t really know). 160 km to go to Nordkapp and I seriously thought it might not happen anymore. To come 25.000 km from Africa with this in mind and stop short of Nordkapp was a genuine possibility at this stage.
After a few minutes, I breathed deeply and I jumped back on the bike, decided that I would take a kilometer at a time and see what happens. The wind was increasing, blowing from the right side hard; my hands were numb and I felt very cold down my spine. The thermometer indicated 1 degree still, but I was sure that the wind-chill factor at this temperature would be way worse than I expected.
As I turned north at Olderfjord, it started to drizzle, some sort of frozen rain, making the road extremely slippery. On the way to Honingsvag, the road is built right on the side of the sea, with high cliffs on the left and the churning Arctic Ocean on the right. Few kilometers outside Honingsvag I entered the Nordkapp tunnel, a 7 km tunnel that goes 5 km under the sea to reach the final stretch to Nordkapp. The tunnel was freakishly dark, I had to pull out my goggles to be able to ride and it was very cold in that darkness. No cars, no traffic and my state of mind suddenly took a turn for the worse; deep depression set in, I started shaking uncontrollably again and I turned the bike around inside the tunnel and stopped. I had 32 km to Nordkapp this way, or 240 to the Finland border that way, where straight roads, friendlier people and warmer temperatures would welcome me. I starred in both directions inside that tunnel and the darkness starred back inside of me. It was a very natural decision to quit, it felt easy and unremorseful. I jumped on the bike, started it and as I put it in first gear, the deep rebellion in me woke up and said: “Screw this! Screw natural tendencies and easy decision making! Today, I go against myself, against my mind and against my will!” I turned the bike around and headed to Honingsvag and Nordkapp.
After passing Honingsvag, the road becomes very narrow (3-4 m wide) and climbs higher to reach the Cape. There are no more trees, the wind is unrestricted and it was blowing me off the road into the cliffs that were dropping on each side. I grinded my teeth like never before, hating the rebel inside me and promising I would never listen again to its idiocy. Nordkapp was now only 9 km in front of me. I grinded some more and I leaned harder on the right side to counteract the wind power.
As I reached Nordkapp that morning, 10:45 am, 1 degree, 20m/s winds (3 local forecasts were posting that), my odometer was indicating 24525 km from Livingstone, Zambia and 6 months and 9 days from our departure. I rode to the gate and the poor young guy there looked at me astonished; I was alone, no other soul in sight and he said: “Welcome to Nordkapp!”
I asked him to go inside, but then I realized that I have to pay to reach the building. When he told me I have to pay 25 Euros to pass, I looked at him, deeply and I thought: “If I jump on his neck and strangle him, it wouldn’t help much. He is just working here.” I told him with a very frozen smile: “I will just turn around”. I did a U-turn and rode 100m down to the Nordkapp sign where I said I should at least take a photo. I climbed off the bike and as I put the foot peg down the wind almost toppled the bike on the side. I couldn’t get away from it to take a picture. The photo you will see of the Nordkapp and a part of my bike was taken while I was pushing the bike with all my power with one leg, against the wind, while I stretched backwards to be able to take the bloody photo. The next second the camera froze, the buttons would not respond and I couldn't even turn it off. That made me understand how powerful the wind-chill was.
It was extremely disappointing to go through so much hell to get there and to be stuck at the sign, by myself and not being able to document it properly. In retrospect, I don’t care anymore, Nordkapp was mostly a symbolic feat for me, as the place itself is not that spectacular; it is a rock on a top of a ridge. As I found out later, it is not even the northernmost point of Europe, the real one cannot be reached by car or road, as you have to hike for about 8 hours to get there. For me though, it was the conquering of my own fears, tendencies, weaknesses and doubts and that is why Nordkapp will always be important to me. It brought out the inner struggle and helped me understand how fragile us humans are and how we can also find strength to push our limits further.
I rode 4 more hours that day, even though I was frozen and wet and as I headed south towards Karasjok, I found the road challenges very feeble in comparison to what I just witnessed.
The next day I entered Finland, where the roads are straight, the speed limit 100 km/h, the people friendly and the prices reasonable. I was still shaken from the day before, but I was feeling invigorated and had a deep sense of peace and tranquility in my heart.
Nordkapp was on the top of my list since 2011 when I started to plan for this expedition. Our major direction from Livingstone was North. North to Nordkapp of course. Reaching it implied serious shift in physical direction (I would now head south to Turku, Finland and then East for the next 11.000 km to Vladivostok, Russia) and in my mental attitude as well. Now, Mother Russia awaits for me, with its humongous distances and cultures and secrets. When I entered northern Finland and saw the first signs for Murmansk, the hair on my neck stood up. I need few days to recover from Nordkapp trauma and set my mind for Russia.
On my way down, I stayed in Jan’s friends’ homes, Mr. Eero and Mr. Rogers, excellent gentlemen that opened the doors for a stranger like me. It felt very weird to sleep in a bed, eat some amazing food, and chat with these people. Even though I was coming out of one of the top countries in the world, I felt I was coming out of the Amazon Jungle (where I have spent some time in the past). It was the same feeling because of the loneliness I endured in that country and the challenge of riding through its mountains and fjords.
Norway will forever bear its print in my soul and my subconscious... It is with mixed feelings that I declare that, truly, this is a paradise country to ride your bike in, even though it will hurt your wallet, your heart and your mind; but if you make it, you will become a stronger person inside and out, just like the Vikings of Norway are.
Photos at:
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  #15  
Old 15 Jun 2014
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Wink Leg 12: Finland, estonia, st. Petersburg, russia, part 1: 1500 km

The last 2 weeks were spent at Jan’s apartment in Ekenas, Finland. Once Jan arrived from Namibia, he made sure I get a taste of the local back roads and I must say, I was very happy to ride like a local, with a local. Jan knows the woods and the tracks through them like the back of his hand, as he grew up in this part of the world and I was privileged to see amazing places and meet excellent people through his network of friends. We explored the back roads (amazing gravel roads, winding beautifully through the forests and farmlands of Southern Finland) on the bikes and we explored the archipelago as well on a boat belonging to a friend of his. I was amazed how many islands, inlets and bays they have in this place and how peaceful everything is, with private islands away from the buzz of the city and great nature all around.
I visited our friends in Turku as well, Heikki and Ulla, long (very long) distance bikers that have seen and done it all, from Ushuaia to Cape Town, from Israel to Nordkapp. Heikki and Ulla spoiled me while in Turku, taking me out to various restaurants and showing me a good time. With friends like these (Stina and Pile in Ekenas as well, to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for feeding me and for arranging for a great article in the local newspaper), it was hard to say goodbye and I realized once more how easy it is to get comfortable in good company and how quickly the human mind relaxes in favorable circumstances. For all the above, I have Jan to thank for, as he is the initiator of all good things.
I arrived in Tallinn at 6:30, waiting for Jan first by the ferry and then at the hotel where we were supposed to stay. I soon realized that he missed the ferry (there was no other explanation) and once I found out how bad the backpackers hotel was, where we were supposed to stay, I headed out of town where I found a campsite (still a dump, but cheap).
Once I set camp, I rode back to the Old town to see if I can still find Jan, who hopefully would come with the evening ferry. I hovered around the same spot until around 9:30 and then I ate something and headed back to the camp. As I rode out of the old town, by the roundabout at the Viru Hotel (the tall one) I looked for incoming cars but I overlooked the fact that there is a tram way as well. I accelerated to enter the roundabout and I heard screams and loud honking of the cars around me. I turned and saw the tram within meters from my bike... I accelerated again but, from panic, I opened the clutch too fast and the bike stalled and died on the rail. The tram driver saw I was stuck and started to brake, people were shouting louder and running towards me and I knew that I was dead; my bike was on the rail and I was looking straight at the driver’s face, which became very white and his eyes became very big. My blood rushed down from my face and I knew it was all over. I heard screeching noises and the tram literally stopped with its bumper touching my left crash bar with my knee only 10 cm away from it. The passengers jumped out of the tram, the driver came out pulling his hair, thinking he broke my leg, and other drivers in the cars behind came to help me push the bike back and looked at my leg. All this happened within few seconds, but I saw everything in slow motion, as if I was not actually there, but I was watching the whole thing from the side. I was in such a state of shock, I couldn’t believe that I was still alive and neither anyone around me. They were very friendly in the end and extremely courteous and two cars actually escorted me for a while as I headed back to camp. I had nightmares about this the whole night.
I left the next day after breakfast (which I had in the Old town, again, but this time extremely focused on trams) to Narva. I rode straight to the border, trying to find out if I need to do anything in advance for entering Russia. I am glad I did: I needed to reserve my space, buy a reservation number, fill in 4 different customs forms and change money into rubles. I then went to camp in Narva. Then, this morning, 12th of June, I was at the border at 8:00 am. It is a big holiday in Russia so lots of people crossing into Estonia. I arrived with my bike at the border kiosk and presented my passport. The guy looked at it, put it through the computer and then looked at me strangely, called another guy, spoke something in Estonian (remember this was at the Estonian side of the border, not Russia) and then he said: “Come with me, please”. He took me through some very dark corridors, into a room with no windows, barred doors and it really looked like an interrogation room. Then he took the bike keys, the passport and the bike registration and said to wait here. Then, I waited, from 8:00 to 12:00. No one came to see me, I had no water, it was freaking hot and I couldn’t hear or see anything. I was worried about my bike, with so many people around it and all my valuables there.
Eventually, at 12:00 a big guy with 2 stars on his shoulders, with gun and everything, came with my papers, and very imposingly said: “you are an illegal immigrant in Europe and you stayed 3 months longer than you were allowed”. I said “What? What do you mean 3 months? I have a visa that expires today”. He said “No, you were not supposed to get another 3 months in March when you came back from Morocco, so you stayed illegally in Europe for the past 3 months”. I got so pissed with this guy, because he thought he would scare me with this tactic. I said “I need to contact my embassy and I need a lawyer”. “How could I stay illegally if I have a perfectly legal visa on my passport?” He replied: “You do, but the Spanish Immigration officer in Tarifa should have not stamped your passport”. “Really”, I said, “so why am I the guilty one here? I am just a tourist, he should have known better”.
Apparently, he said that I can only stay 3 months in a 6 months period in Europe and after 6 months I can come back for another 3 months. Which I think it is bullshit, as I know for sure that you can have a 3 months tourist stamp and then you have to exit Schengen area (what they call most of the European Union) for few days (which I did, staying in Morocco for more than 2 weeks) and then you can re enter Europe and get another 90 days, which I also did. As a proof, Carmen had the same visa as me, “overstayed” by 2 months (according to Estonian immigration) and when she flew back from Belgium back to Canada, no one said anything to her, she was legal.
Well, after a few more questions, the guy left and again I waited for more than an hour. Then he came back with a stash of papers (which I have with me as copies), explaining to me my “crime”. Therefore, here is my offense:
1. I am an illegal immigrant in Europe. They took photos of myself (front and side, just like the criminals) and gave me a copy of the paper stating this, next to my photograph.
2. I have to pay a fine of 100 Euro to the Estonian Ministry of Finance within 50 days
3. I have to present myself in court to dispute my case (I told them to f... off)
I then told them to handcuff me and send me back to Estonia to jail, as I will not pay anything, I will not come back for a court trial and I couldn’t care less if I am banned from beautiful Schengen bloody area. He said he couldn’t do that because I am not allowed back in Europe, but he will let me go to Russia now. I asked him “how can you let me go and how do you think I will come back to court in Estonia,?” He replied: “it is not my job to think of that, it is my job to make sure you comply with European law”. I showed him the finger (in my mind of course).
So, I got all my papers, my passport, the new offense papers (which I have with me to prove how they tried to screw me and to write articles about this everywhere), jumped on my bike and I headed to Russia border. I got to the Russian line, a blonde lady greeted me with a smile, stamped my passport, sent me to Customs, where I got another paper, and in less than 15 minutes I was welcomed into Russia.
I rode to St. Petersburg guessing my way more than anything, because the GPS didn’t do much for me. I loaded the maps for Russia from opensource.com but for some reason the GPS does not see them. So, I rode towards St. Petersburg (I read and speak a bit of Russian, which so far, has been a lifesaver here) and then for 2 hours I tried to find roads that will take me closer to my camp, for which I had the coordinates. I discovered something amazing in the process: if you have the coordinates, even if you don’t have the maps, you can see the destination and then you can just try to ride on the closest road that you find in front of you. I did this and after about 2 hours I arrived at my camp.
St. Petersburg is an impressive city, and Russians like to build big. The historic city, of course, is a gem of architecture and design, but only now, by visiting this citadel, I realized how big the rest of the city is and that it is much more than just the bridges and the cathedrals. Most of the pictures and videos I saw with St. Petersburg before were specific, with the greatest attractions it has to offer, but never with the neighborhoods surrounding the historic downtown. It is massive, with apartment blocks that stretch for kilometers, lined up like giant dominoes on each side of the road. The traffic is crazy, these guys drive over 120 km/h in the middle of the town, slaloming in and out of lanes like there’s no one else on the road.
My first 2 days in Russia and my head is already spinning. I have 10.000 km to go... I cannot even begin to even imagine what it’s going to be like.

PHOTOS AT: Nomad Sports Academy
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"I for one always had an adventurous spirit, but you and Susan lit the fire for my trip and I'll be forever grateful for what you two do to inspire others to just do it." Brent, USA

"Your website is a mecca of valuable information and the (video) series is informative, entertaining, and inspiring!" Jennifer, Canada

"Your worldwide organisation and events are the Go To places to for all serious touring and aspiring touring bikers." Trevor, South Africa

"This is the answer to all my questions." Haydn, Australia

"Keep going the excellent work you are doing for Horizons Unlimited - I love it!" Thomas, Germany

Lots more comments here!



Five books by Graham Field!

Diaries of a compulsive traveller
by Graham Field
Book, eBook, Audiobook

"A compelling, honest, inspiring and entertaining writing style with a built-in feel-good factor" Get them NOW from the authors' website and Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Amazon.co.uk.



Back Road Map Books and Backroad GPS Maps for all of Canada - a must have!

New to Horizons Unlimited?

New to motorcycle travelling? New to the HU site? Confused? Too many options? It's really very simple - just 4 easy steps!

Horizons Unlimited was founded in 1997 by Grant and Susan Johnson following their journey around the world on a BMW R80G/S.

Susan and Grant Johnson Read more about Grant & Susan's story

Membership - help keep us going!

Horizons Unlimited is not a big multi-national company, just two people who love motorcycle travel and have grown what started as a hobby in 1997 into a full time job (usually 8-10 hours per day and 7 days a week) and a labour of love. To keep it going and a roof over our heads, we run events all over the world with the help of volunteers; we sell inspirational and informative DVDs; we have a few selected advertisers; and we make a small amount from memberships.

You don't have to be a Member to come to an HU meeting, access the website, or ask questions on the HUBB. What you get for your membership contribution is our sincere gratitude, good karma and knowing that you're helping to keep the motorcycle travel dream alive. Contributing Members and Gold Members do get additional features on the HUBB. Here's a list of all the Member benefits on the HUBB.




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